Asia Harm Reduction Forum 2023 continues push for safer tobacco products

In its sixth edition and return to in-person convention after the Covid-19 pandemic, the Asia Harm Reduction Forum 2023 (AHRF) continues supporting the use of safer nicotine products across the continent. In a media briefing (attended by Tech and Lifestyle Journal) held at the Prince Hotel Manila after the main forum, key speakers emphasized the need for transparency especially in global conferences where policies about tobacco use are deliberated.

Martin Culliip, a former Chair of UK-based educational charity The New Nicotine Alliance, has warned against some oppositionists whom he said aim to “redefine smoke to include vapor from vaping products and heated tobacco and at the same time put more restrictions on safer nicotine usage.”

“We call on delegates on the upcoming Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Treaty in November to consider the impact of what they are deciding. Basically, what they want to propose to the closed-door meeting is to eradicate all safer nicotine products,” Culliip said.

He recalled that in 2010, the UK government tried to ban vaping for 20 days. The consumers then called on to stop the prohibition. “Since then, they have seen the benefits of harm reduction, and the government’s whole tobacco control policy centers around vaping,” Culliip reiterated.

Alternative to tobacco smoking

“The vast majority of people who use vaping products, nicotine pouches, or heated tobacco are former smokers. We advocate for the use of these products, which users have found to have improved their lives. We want to preach to other people who have not yet switched to safer nicotine options,” he continued.

Social media and marketing expert Jeffrey Zamora also underlined the effectiveness of harm-reduction products in helping control smoking prevalence in Latin American countries. He pointed out that over 110 entities related to research, ministries of health, and governments have declared such products to be safer than combustible tobacco.

“There’s a huge potential for public health benefits. Countries like the UK, New Zealand, France, and Sweden are almost smoke-free with just 5% to 6% prevalence of tobacco smoking, thanks to these products. The World Health Organization has set a goal of less than 5% prevalence for a country to be declared smoke-free,” Zamora said.

PH on the right track

Meanwhile, Suely Castro, an advocate from Knowledge Action Change (an organization that helps raise harm reduction awareness around the world) commended the Philippines for going in the right direction. “The country is showing to other nations the importance of having a strong will. We want the population to be educated about these products so they can decide whether they would use those, considering their health status and the composition of the products,” she said.

Dr. Rohan Andrade De Sequeira also echoed the same message. “The UK, the US, the Philippines, and other countries are leading the way in understanding and recognizing that there are safer alternatives to tobacco smoking, which is killing people all over the world. Critics try to make a misconception that these are more harmful, when in the contrary, they are up to 85% safer than conventional cigarettes,” he concluded.

As advocated by AHRF, harm reduction seeks to mitigate the negative effects of harmful habits such as smoking, alcohol consumption, overeating, and risky sexual behaviors. The forum underscores how these habits take a significant toll on people, communities, and the environment, emphasizing the importance of finding ways to enjoy these activities without compromising well-being.